Gus Carpenter

Gus Carpenter

I knew that I wanted to matter to her.

Her hair had been wet the first time I had really noticed Darlene. I was thirteen. I crossed her yard next door to mine to catch the school bus that stopped in front of her house. I leaned against the mailbox facing Darlene’s house, my books under one arm. Next door my mutts, Fats and Blinky, started barking as the bus approached.

Darlene’s screen door opened halfway and then banged shut and then opened again. She stepped out onto her porch in her white parka, a stack of books cradled against her chest, her damp, dark hair shining in the sun. I heard the bus rumble to a stop behind me but I kept watching Darlene. She didn’t even look at the bus. She bent forward at the waist and with her free arm shook out her hair as it fell over her face. Then she tossed it all back and shook her head some more and ran her hand through her hair again and again, smoothing it back and over her hood.

The bus driver beeped her horn. A year before, a month before, a day before that morning, I would have yelled, “Come on, Darlene, move!” But today I just stood there watching her take care of herself. Of course she was being selfish and vain and disrespectful. And that thrilled me. She wasn’t afraid to believe that she knew what mattered at that moment, and that it wasn’t the bus or the school bell or anything else but that she looked her very best before she started her day. As I watched her cross her lawn and climb the bus steps without a word or a glance for the bus driver or for me, I knew that I wanted to matter to her.